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Monday, February 08, 2016

Found While Googling Myself

I was Googling myself, as you do, when I found the above. Apparently it came out last year, written by a university academic from Deakin uni, and it spent a couple of pages on my novel Wolfborn. Like other academic tomes it would cost $$$ to buy and even the ebook cost about the price of four paperbacks. So I decided to see if the State Library had a copy and take a look before deciding to order a copy for myself.

I went today, after work, and sat down in the Redmond Barry Reading Room with my prize. If I'd been there on a weekend I might have curled up with it in a corner and read the lot, but I was tired and had to go before the library closed, so I settled for a browse through the pages about my favourite writers - and, of course, the pages about me. 

I hadn't heard of all the authors, though, as a passionate children's/YA reader and librarian, I had heard of a fair few. And I must say, first, that I'm flattered to be one of only two local writers among those I did know. The other was Catherine Jinks, for her novel Pagan's Crusade - I didn't get around to checking the section on Saving Thanehaven, but it's an unusual choice, as the novel is set inside a computer game, some bits of it based on the author's own space horror novel. I would have thought that Anna Ciddor's Viking Magic novels would get a mention, and the Quentaris series, but  one can't read everything.

In fact, there may have been a few too many books crammed into a rather small volume as it was. 

And my book got two pages, while Tolkien got about two paragraphs and it wasn't The Hobbit, it was Lord Of The Rings. Susan Cooper was there, of course, but not for The Dark Is Rising, but for The Boggart. Now, The Boggart is a beautiful book, but The Dark Is Rising is her masterpiece, which will become a classic. And it had Merlin in it and many references to history and folklore, whereas the mediaeval connections in The Boggart were slight. 

The section about my book was in a chapter on monsters. There was a section in the same chapter on Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely and other urban fantasy. I suppose it fitted into the theme because the fairies it involves are traditional, the stuff of folklore. Melissa Marr is also a university academic, I believe, and her research for that series was thorough. I was just finishing Wolfborn when I read WL and was fascinated by her bibliography, which was similar to mine. 

So, what did she have to say about Wolfborn? I couldn't help feeling, by the wording, that there was a somewhat disapproving  sneer under the academic speak. More than once she reminded her readers that my characters were aristocratic and the character who was executed in the first scene was a peasant(and, it was implied, it was unfair, dammit!). Well, yes. But the boy who is executed in my prologue isn't killed for being a werewolf, which isn't illegal in the Kingdom of Armorique, but because in his wolf shape he had killed a child. He would have been executed if he'd done that in human shape. And my hero Etienne's father says it would never have happened if the boy's werewolf father, a wandering mercenary, had been around long enough to teach him and take him off to learn the trade. He regrets having to give this order, but feels he has no choice. 

Etienne had to be an aristocrat because if he was, say, a pot boy in the castle kitchen, he would never have got as close to his master as he did in this book and would certainly never have married his daughter. 

But the point I make in the novel is that most werewolves are aristocrats because they're more likely to be able to hide it and less likely to be murdered by a mob. For example, the heroine of The Sword And The Wolf, my WIP, is a peasant (born) werewolf who has managed to survive her childhood, though everyone knew about her father, because her mother was the local wise woman, too useful to annoy; soon after her mother's death, the girl has her first skin change during an attempted rape by village louts and has to flee. She is no longer welcome in the village. However, after living alone for a while, she accidentally releases a Merlin-like wizard from a tree with the earth magic she is practising and then gets involved with aristocratic things as she accompanies her new teacher on a quest to find the prince who went missing when the wizard's previous apprentice locked him away. Sorry, but you just can't do an exciting adventure purely centred around mediaeval peasants and their surroundings! Well, maybe you can. I offer this as a challenge for anyone who would like to try. 

The author of the academic tome says that the werewolf knight's wife is "packed off to a women's community". Wrong. She goes at her own request - conveniently, I admit, but the author of this book never says that - because she really doesn't feel that she can handle any longer being married to a man who frightens her because he isn't quite human. The women's community(read "convent") is run by a relative and is rather like Hildegard of Bingen's community, where she will finally be able to get an education. 

Still, anything on which academics get their hands is running the risk of being misinterpreted and it's quite exciting to have been mentioned in a non fiction book. I am still in two minds as to whether I will buy a copy. But I will certainly go back, perhaps during the next term break, and read the book in full at the library. It's a slender volume that I could read in about two hours

Sunday, February 07, 2016

A Loathly Lady Story By Lois McMaster Bujold

Recently, I've been rereading all my LMB books, which I love as much as ever and it has occurred to me that the story of "Labyrinth", the Miles Vorkosigan novella, has definite connections to the Loathly Lady stories of the Middle Agrs.

In case you're not familiar with these, you'll find them in the story of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell and even in Chaucer in the Wife Of Bath's Tale. What it boils down to is this: the hero finds himself with a terrifying huge, ugly woman who makes certain demands of him, including marriage, in exchange for something he needs desperately. He grants them to her and in the morning finds himself beside a stunningly beautiful woman - by giving her what she wanted, he has broken a spell. (And when you think of it, even the Disney movie Shrek plays with it, except that the beautiful woman turns into an ogre and happily goes off with her fellow ogre)

But I was thinking of the Child Ballad King Henry, which I first heard plated by Steeleye Span on my favourite album Below The Salt. In it, King Henry(no specific King Henry, just the standard Everyknight with a crown) gets lost hunting and finds his way to a "haunted hall" to spend the night. There, he is confronted with a huge, ugly fanged woman who demands of him food(his horse, hounds and hawks) and drink(wine sewed up in his horse's hide). Then she demands he sleep with her. Trembling, he lies down with her. In the morning, she has turned into the beautiful woman of his dreams, and tells him that his knightly courtesy and giving her all she wanted has impressed her. That's where Steeleye Span leaves it, except for a last chorus/verse about having an open heart and full of charity. 

So, we return to the story of Miles Vorkosigan and his own Loathly Lady, who eventually becomes a master sergeant in his fleet. Miles has been contracted to rescue a scientist whose skills will be useful to Barrayar and who has been having second thoughts about his employment on the dreadful planet Jackson's Whole, where pretty much everything is okay as long as it fits in with things capitalist. Including horrible use of genetic engineering for sexual slavery.

The scientist insists that a vital part of his research is embedded in the left leg of a "creature" he'd been working on and won't go without it. Kill the creature and take the material, he tells Miles.

Then Miles finds himself in the basement with an eight foot high being with fangs... and discovers it is female - and human - in fact, a sixteen year old girl - under all the genetic engineering. She has been created for a super soldier program that no longer exists and been abandoned and sold into slavery. Seeing her killing and eating a rat - about all there is to eat in that place - he offers her a ration bar. After the food, she wants water, which she has been without since being locked up. He finds a water pipe and she has her drink. Then she demands that he lie with her to prove he accepts her as human. Miles is at first shocked, but manages to give her what she wanted. making her happy - and inviting her to join his mercenaries, telling her that he had been sent to slay a monster and instead found a hidden princess.

 After that, they escape, wiping out the villain's entire gene banks of potential slaves as they go. The Loathly Lady, now called Taura, never becomes beautiful in a regular sense, but she cleans up well, with the help of a female soldier, and becomes beautiful in her own way.

Can you see the resemblance to King Henry? He gives her food, drink and himself, in other words "all her will", which is usually the point of these stories. Sir Gawain and the unnamed knight of the Canterbury Tale both have to find out what women want - which is to get their own way. King Henry doesn't have that problem, but he gives her her own way anyhow.

I wouldn't put it past Lois McMaster Bujold to have had a Loathly Lady story in mind when writing this.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Australia's Favourite Authors 2016!

Just visited the Booktopia web site which published, a few days ago, this year's top ten list of Australia's (voted) favourite writers - link below:

I am pleased to say that four of these on the top ten list are writers for young readers, and that some of the adult writers have also written for teens. Go check it out. And meanwhile, congratulations to this year's winner, Australia's favourite writer, the delightful Isobelle Carmody! Nice, too, to see that for the second year in a row the top writer on the list has been a children's/YA author. Does this tell you something about children's writers? I think they are just the best story tellers. My own opinion, of course. At least no one expects a child to love a book for its "beautiful writing".

Her novel Alyzon Whitestar will be republished this year by Ford Street publishing, so if you missed it the first time you'll have another chance.

Okay, Isobelle, now that you've finished Obernewtyn and become Australia's favourite writer,can you please,  please finish Legendsong

Friday, February 05, 2016

On Comfort Reading And Fairy Tales

I have trouble sleeping some nights. Like last night. I'm in bed early Saturday morning and haven't slept since before 5.00 am - well before.

The thing I do when I'm unable to sleep is to pull out something I've read and reread. It soothes and the fact that I know what's going to happen means that I don't get my brain buzzing when I want to get back to sleep.

If you've followed this blog for a while, you'll know some of my comfort reading choices. Tolkien. Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan saga. Kerry Greenwood's mysteries. Terry Pratchett's Discworld. Josephine Tey's Daughter Of Time. Harry Potter. (And this morning I've been following's HP reread. It's fun to read other people's thoughts on your own favourite books and enter the discussion)

This morning I've been reading some Andrew Lang Fairy Books, on my iPad compliments of Project Gutenberg.

I love fairy tales - I follow a few fairy tale blogs, which are always good value. As a writer of spec fic, I appreciate having the resources.

The Lang books, written in the Victorian era,  are a mishmash of everything from Grimm to D'Aulnoy, from Anderson to Greek myth(one story, while not mentioning names, is clearly a juvenile retelling of the story of Perseus). They come in different "colours". Many of the most familiar stories are in the Blue Fairy Book - Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, etc. The Brown Fairy Book focuses on international stories, quite a few outside Europe. The Pink Fairy Book has a lot of stories I've never encountered before.

Interestingly, Andrew Lang, though best known for his fairy tale books, wrote some fiction of his own, which I had on my iPad before it was wrecked and I had to download again. I'm still downloading books which didn't make it back in my initial download, as I realise that this or that book hasn't returned.  His own fiction, I vaguely recall, was crime fiction, or some of it was.

But he really comes into his own with the fairy tales - and I loved one of his introductions in which he explains why he doesn't call them folk tales, saying that he just can't see some small child asking his grandmother for "another folk tale, Grandmother".

They're a valuable treasury of world fairy tales and it's wonderful to have access to so much good stuff on Gutenberg, because I don't remember ever seeing any of these fairy books in the shops.

And a good, comforting thing to read late at night/early morning when you can't sleep.

Anybody got some favourite reading for sleepless nights?

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Just Finished Reading... The Colours Of Madeleine 1 and 2

In the last few weeks I've been reading volumes 1and 2 of Jaclyn Moriarty's YA trilogy The Colours Of Madeleine - A Corner Of White and The Cracks In The Kingdom.  The author will be doing part of her promotional blog tour here on March 16. I have yet to read the final volume, A Tangle Of Gold, the reason for the tour, but I am looking forward to it, as the second volume ended on a cliffhanger. Not sure when I'll get that as an email to the publicity department got me an automatic response saying that they only check it intermittently and if it's urgent, phone them. Hopefully it will be intermittently checked in the next day or so, as I have to send them interview questions for the author in the next two weeks. 

Meanwhile... What is The Colours Of Madeleine about? 

Madeleine and Elliot are pen pals. They write letters to each other about everything from science to their lives. Both of them are missing a father. His father has disappeared, possibly carried off to its caves by a rampaging Purple. She and her mother ran away from home individually and now live in a small squashy flat in Cambridge, England, while her father hasn't been answering her letters or email. 

The thing is, they live in different universes. He lives in the Kingdom of Cello, a country in a world where there are colours - or, rather Colours - that have physical form and can kill you or inspire you to dance and rejoice. Magic can be found in the Lake of Spells up north. The seasons aren't reliable - today might be summer, tomorrow there might be snow. The people in his kingdom know about our universe, which they call the World, but they haven't communicated since the seventeenth century, when someone brought back the plague from London. You can be executed for communicating with the World through cracks between the universes. But when Elliot finds a world crack in a sculpture in the high school's grounds and Madeleine sees a letter sticking out of a parking meter on a Cambridge street, a correspondence begins, and a possible inter-universe romance.

And Elliot's father isn't the only person missing from Cello ... 

I can't tell much more because of spoilers and you'll hopefully learn more on March 16, but I can say that it's a sweet and gentle story(you really can't read the second volume without the first, so yes, story, singular) with magic, mystery, adventure and teen angst. And baked goods, lots of baked goods, especially on Elliot's side of the barrier, but also in Cambridge tea shops. My mouth watered as I read! 

I think I have to agree with the author's friend Adam that it would be pretty hard to farm with unpredictable swinging seasons, even with greenhouses - and anyway, what did people in Cello do before greenhouses? 

I was fascinated by the science discussions, though. Madeleine is one of three teens being home schooled by several different people. Their science teacher is an Indian neighbour who uses her small daughters to demonstrate aspects of physics. Their history teacher is a porter at Cambridge university, who gives them the task of researching a historical figure who lived in Cambridge. Madeleine's historical figure is Isaac Newton, who seems to play a vital role in the background to these books. Learning about him definitely helps her to work out certain things Elliot needs to know. I'm just waiting to find out if Newton plays an even more important role in explaining what is going on in Elliot's universe. 

Let's see what the author has to say in my interview a few weeks from now! 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

January 31 - On This Day

I really have to get on with preparing my classes for tomorrow, so I've kept it simple, with a date meme. 

Things that happened on this day! 

I haven't been able to find any literary events on January 31, so here are some space-related ones:

1862 – American astronomer Graham Clark discovers the white dwarf star Sirius B, a companion of Sirius. He was also a telescope-maker and apparently made the discovery while texting out a new 18 1/2 inch telescope which, according to Wikipedia, is still being used, after 153 years! 

1961 – Project Mercury: Mercury-Redstone 2:  Ham the Chimp is shot into outer space. I vaguely recall Michael Collins mentioning this in his history of the space program. The poor little thing did not enjoy his space flight, but he did live till the 1980s and had a funeral complete with eulogy. And what they learned from his flight, where he had to perform tasks, helped with the flight of Alan Shepard in Freedom 7. 

1971 - Apollo 14 shoots off to the moon. I have a soft spot for this one because the leader was Alan Shepard, who had missed out after the Mercury program due to health issues. He had recovered and finally got to go to the moon. 

There are more space-related stories, but these will do for now. 

If you want to read a bit more about the space program, you might like to check out my children's book Starwalkers: Explorers Of The Unknown. Unfortunately it's out of print(sold out, by the way) but you might be able to get a copy on ABE Books.

I will just add that on this day, in 1949, the world's first soap opera, These Are My Children, was broadcast. Think of all the soapies which might never have happened if not for this!

Authors Born On This Day

1872: Zane Grey, the author of all those Westerns! He took a while to get going, having a lot of rejection slips, including for Riders Of The Purple Sage, which became his all-time bestseller, but once he did  get going, he became a millionaire(For Riders, he went over the head of the editor who had turned him down)

1893 - Freya Stark - travel writer and memoirist. 

1923 - Norman Mailer, Pulitzer Prizewinner

1934 - Gene De Weese, author of a lot of Star Trek novels. I can't recall if I've read any of his, but they were popular. 

1980 - Kevin Maynard, author of the TV series Dexter.

This is the feast day of St John Bosco, a nineteenth century priest who did great things for kids. I mention him because he's also a patron saint of editors and publishers. (Maybe it's the name John, because THE St John is also the patron saint of publishers.)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Loss Of Followers Overnight!

Dear Readers,

I seem to have lost twenty followers overnight. As I don't really think twenty people have deleted me from their list of blogs all in one night, I can only assume it's due to the new Blogger policy of only allowing followers who sign in via their Google account. If you're reading this despite having lost me, can you please get a Google account? It's annoying, but can't be helped. Besides, I've found that Gmail is much better than other on line email services. There's less spam and it almost always goes straight into the spam folder. The only annoyance is the demand for your phone number - I understand the reason behind it, but it's an invasion of privacy, IMO. Still, if something goes wrong, hacking for example, you'd be glad.

If you prefer to get my posts by email, there is that option.